The Village Of Eight Graves (2021) by Seishi Yokomizo trans. Bryan Karetnyk

The small village of Eight Graves, nestled in the Japanese mountains, has a dark past twice over. Many, many years ago, eight samurai were brutally murdered, bringing a curse down upon the settlement, a curse that seeming came to fruition in the 1920s, when a brutal village leader snapped and murdered far more than eight people. And now, twenty-five years later, with memories of that tragedy remaining raw for many occupants of the village, young Tatsuya Terada is summoned to the village for reasons unknown to him. But before he even leaves Kobe, the murders begin…

As eight new graves begin to be filled, suspicion falls on Tatsyu as the newcomer to the village. Luckily, the famous detective Kosuke Kindaichi believes his innocence but even he may be powerless to prevent the inevitable…

Seishi Yokimizo is one the primary writers of the honkaku school of detective fiction, Japanese mysteries inspired by the western traditions of Christie et al. It’s taken over seventy years, but finally they are being translated into English so that we all can enjoy them. This is the third translation released so far by Pushkin Press following The Honjin Murders and The Inugami Curse. I’ve read the first one and sort of enjoyed it – the method was a bit too convoluted for me – so when I saw this one in Waterstones the other day, I thought I’d give it a go.

I think what this, and Honjin, shows is that “inspired by classic detection” doesn’t mean a copy of classic detection, but merely a starting point for a different sort of story.

For a start, the sleuth is hardly in this. He keeps popping up now and then without explaining, until the end, why he is even in the village. This is very much Tatsyu’s story, with the tension and perils ratcheting up as the story progresses. The second half of the book mostly takes place with Tatsyu on the run, and it’s to the plot’s credit that this keeps the tension up. The majority of the mysteries of the story are small, interweaved ones such as what was each character up to and what secrets are they hiding.

It’s a good thing that the individual mysteries are so interesting, as the central whodunit element as unfortunately the identity of the murderer struck me as incredibly obvious. It probably wins the prize for “there must have been an easier way” and when Kindaichi reveals… something… you can’t help wondering what was the need for the whole thing.

All in all, an interesting, if a little flawed, read – oh, I should mention the excellent quality of the translation by Bryan Karetnyk – just don’t go in expecting an Agatha Christie novel set in Japan and you should enjoy it.

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